A lunch invitation from the president of the University of Indianapolis was a special enough occasion for a pair of Johnson County residents.
But neither Dr. Robert Kopecky nor William Van Deman expected to be honored with the highest recognition given in the state of Indiana.
“I was surprised and flattered. But when someone gives you something, you say ‘thank you. That’s all I could do and give them a big hug,’” Van Deman said.
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Both Van Deman and Kopecky, along with the late Dr. John Deever, who was Kopecky’s medical practice partner for 27 years, were recognized during a ceremony at the University of Indianapolis for their lasting impacts on the southside community. Kopecky and Van Deman were awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, given by Gov. Mike Pence in appreciation of extraordinary service to the state.
The Sagamore of the Wabash distinction is not given posthumously, so Deever did not receive the award. But he was celebrated in the same way for his commitment to the community.
To go along with the recognition, an unidentified couple and supporter of the University of Indianapolis pledged $500,000 in the names of Van Deman, Kopecky and Deever.
A gift of $250,000 will be given to the Franklin United Methodist Community, where Van Deman lives and had served as chairman of the board in the past. The other $250,000 will be given to the Franciscan Alliance Foundation in honor of Kopecky and Deever.
The luncheon ceremony was hosted by university president Robert L. Manuel, as well as president emeritus Gene Sease, who was president and chancellor of the university from 1968 to 1989.
“It’s been a pleasure to take part in recognizing these great men — Mr. Van Deman, for his many years of leadership and generosity to the University of Indianapolis, and Drs. Kopecky and Deever, who served the community and the university family so well,” Manuel said in an emailed statement. “They embody the fundamental connection between UIndy and our southside neighbors. We are grateful for their contributions and pleased to know of the gifts that will honor their legacy.”
All three men had long ties to the university, as well as to the entire southside community.
Van Deman was the former vice president of Greenwood National Bank and an investment counselor of Traub and Company. He was also instrumental in the leadership at the Franklin United Methodist Community.
He served for nearly 20 years as the board secretary for the University of Indianapolis.
Being honored in this way by Pence and the University of Indianapolis staff was an emotional moment for the Franklin resident.
“I was almost in tears. I know so many people that are so deserving of this, and I wouldn’t have had me on that list,” he said.
The $250,000 gift to the Methodist community is particularly meaningful considering Van Deman’s long connection with the facility.
“Having served on the board for 18 years and having lived here for 19 years, about half of my life has been involved with the Franklin United Methodist Community,” he said. “Funds are always hard to come up with, and it’s a wonderful thing to do that in my honor.”
Kopecky and Deever had their medical practice just blocks away from the university campus. The two started practicing together in 1950, and were partners in obstetrics and pediatrics for 28 years.
During their time together, the pair estimated they delivered more than 10,000 babies at the former St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove.
In addition to their own practice, they became the primary physicians for students and faculty at the University of Indianapolis for more than 20 years.
“It was just a wonderful thing,” said Kopecky, a Greenwood resident. “We were so close that we became the doctors for all of the students. We tried to provide all that we could at that time. The students who needed help, they’d come to the backdoor of our office, and we’d try to help them.”
Being honored by the university and receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash distinction was something that Kopecky never envisioned.
“It’s means a lot, and yet, we were just doctors. We didn’t do anything that deserved anything like that. We just tried to provide them with the best care we could,” he said.
Deever’s daughter, Karen Deever Melick, and her husband, Phil, attended the ceremony in honor of her father. For her, it was an incredibly meaningful way to remember her dad.
“It warmed our hearts. We were so thankful and appreciative. It felt like dad’s spirit was there, he was in that room,” Melick said. “My dad was a very kind, loving, generous, compassionate man.”
A majority of the $250,000 gift given in the names of Kopecky and Deever will support the Franciscan St. Francis Health Hospice House, a new facility that opened in 2015 to home-like comfort with in-patient hospice services. The gift will allow for financial assistance for the families and individuals who need hospice care, said John Short, development officer of major gifts for the Franciscan Alliance Foundation.
“These were men who really met our Franciscan mission, which is helping those most in need,” he said. “When you think about the lives and careers of Dr. Kopecky and Dr. Deever over the generations, this is a living testimony to their legacy of practice from the hospital, and really serves as a challenge to the foundation and all of us in health care to do as much as they did in their careers.”
Another portion of that money will support Franciscan St. Francis Health’s Grace Project, an initiative helping break cycles of opiate addiction and how it affects families, Short said.
“It will help provide settings and solutions to the urgent crisis throughout our nation, particularly in our health care footprint, to help families, patients and their caregivers to deal with the massive onslaught of opiate addiction, which crosses all lines of society,” he said. “It all goes back to helping those in need, which is what Dr. Kopecky and Dr. Deever did so much of.”